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China says radiation levels are normal around Taishan nuclear power plant following reported leak

“There is no anomaly in the radiative environment around the nuclear power plant. Its security is guaranteed,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a press briefing in Beijing.

On Monday, CNN reported that the French company that helps operate the nuclear power plant in southern Guangdong province warned Washington of an “imminent radiological threat.”

The warning included an accusation that the Chinese security authority was increasing the acceptable limits for radiation detection outside the plant in order to avoid having to shut it down, according to a letter from French company Framatome to the US Department of Energy, obtained by CNN.

Responding to Tuesday’s report, Zhao said the Taishan factory was fully compliant with all technical requirements.

“China attaches great importance to nuclear safety and has established a nuclear safety oversight system in accordance with international standards and national conditions,” he said. “Chinese nuclear power plants have so far maintained a good operating record. There have been no incidents affecting the environment and public health.”

However, Zhao declined to answer follow-up questions regarding Framatome’s language in his warning to US officials, particularly his use of the term “imminent radiological threat” and the suggestion that Chinese authorities had raised the acceptable limits of radiation for. the power station and its surroundings.

In a statement on its website on Sunday, the owners of the plant also said environmental readings for the facility and its surroundings were “normal.”

Taishan’s two nuclear reactors are both operational, the statement said, adding that Unit 2 had recently completed a “overhaul” and “successfully connected to the grid on June 10, 2021”. He did not define why or how the plant was overhauled.

Despite the alarming notification from Framatome, which is primarily owned by French utility company Électricité de France (EDF), the Biden administration believes the facility is not yet at a “crisis level,” a source said. at CNN.

EDF has a 30% stake in the owner and operator of the plant, TNPJVC, a joint venture with the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group.

China General Nuclear Power Group and three of its subsidiaries were added to a list of U.S. entities in August 2019, cutting off the Chinese company’s access to U.S. technology.

Framatome had contacted the United States to obtain a waiver that would allow them to share American technical assistance to resolve the problem of the Chinese plant.

U.S. officials are monitoring the situation and believe it does not presently pose a serious threat to the safety of factory workers or the Chinese public. But the concern was significant enough that the National Security Council held several meetings last week.

The Biden administration has discussed the situation with the French government and its own experts from the Energy Ministry, sources said. The United States has also been in contact with the Chinese government, US officials said, although the extent of that contact is unclear.

In a statement to CNN on Friday, Framatome acknowledged that it “supports the resolution of a performance issue with the Taishan nuclear power plant in Guangdong province, China.”

“According to the available data, the plant is operating within the safety parameters. Our team is working with competent experts to assess the situation and propose solutions to resolve any potential problem,” the statement added.

On Monday, the French electricity company EDF said in a press release that it had been informed of an increase in the concentration of “noble gases in the primary circuit” of reactor number 1 at the Taishan nuclear power plant.

EDF declared that “the presence of certain rare gases in the primary circuit is a known phenomenon, studied and foreseen in the operating procedures of the reactor”, but did not specify the gas levels.

Later Monday, an EDF spokesperson said the increase in radiation levels was due to “degradation of the fuel rod housing.”

The spokesman said the levels of radioactivity seen at the plant were below the threshold stipulated by Chinese authorities, adding that the affected homes are the first of three containment barriers between the bars and the atmosphere.

The spokesperson noted that the risk of a potential leak in the stem housing was first discussed following a planned supply shutdown in October 2020 after initial measures raised suspicions. a “lack of tightness” in the housings.

However, the spokesperson stressed that without a full analysis, it is too early to confirm whether a complete shutdown of the reactor is necessary, adding that EDF does not currently have any information regarding the origin of the degradation of the casing at pencils.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Kristen Holmes, Steven Jiang, Yong Xiong and Shanshan Wang contributed to this report.

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